December 5, 2011
Welcome Table by Sam Doyle
Sam Doyle lived his entire life near the small community of Frogmore on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. After his wife and three children left the island to live in New York, he devoted the last fifteen years of his life to preserving and commemorating the rich cultural heritage of his Gullah community.
He preferred to paint in enamel and acrylic on cast-off pieces of roofing metal and created sculpture, using tar on roots and branches. He also worked with plywood, burned logs, floorboards, nails, bottlecaps, refrigerator doors, porcelain sinks, metal medicine cabinets, bird feathers, and photographs. His paintings, drawings and sculpture include images of himself as "Onk Sam" (1978), local personalities on the island such as "Miss Luckie Food Stamp" (1984), and enslaved ancestors whose stories he had heard as a boy. Doyle also depicted leaders and heroes from popular culture such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Ray Charles and Elvis Presley.
Untitled (Crab Man) by Sam Doyle
A group of painted portraits, known as the "First Blacks" series was Doyle's celebration of the first African Americans on the island to attain professional titles within the local St. Helena community during post-Civil War years. "First Doctor Y.B.," (1970s) for instance, honored Dr. York Bailey, the island's first medical doctor. Other examples of these "firsts" are "John Chisholm, St. Helena's First Embalmer" (ca. 1980), "First Black Cleaner" (n.d.), and "St. Helena's First Black Midwife" (early 1980s). Doyle painted portraits of the local root doctors who offered traditional healing still practiced today and memorialized "haints," or spirits of low-country lore.
Sam Doyle is best known for his painted portraits and his ability to preserve local folklore through his works of art. From the 1970s through 1985 one could pass by his home and marvel at the display in his "Nationwide Outdoor Art Gallery," as he referred to his yard. In 1982, Doyle was included in a groundbreaking exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art "Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980." Art dealers, collectors, and artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat became interested in his work, and many came to see this newly "discovered" self-taught artist at his outdoor gallery.